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Children's Health

INFANT AND CHILD NUTRITION - an overview for parents


Children under five have very different eating requirements than adults. This article makes valuable suggestions for weaning babies and how to prepare meals for toddlers.

Healthy eating habits start early!

Compared to adults, children have very different requirements for essential nutrients. They also may need different feeding times and different types and qualities of foods.

Tastebuds take a long time to mature, so food for children often needs to be simple in texture, flavour, preparation, and presentation.

Meal times should be enjoyable and free from stress with an emphasis on the positive aspects of foods and drinks. It is helpful if adults present at meals maintain an open acceptance of all foods rather than expressing dislikes, or labeling foods 'good' or 'bad'.

Avoid having foods containing high amounts of sugar, salt, and fat in the house, and set an example by eating healthy, nutrient rich foods yourself.

Guidelines for the introduction of solids

  • Do not start solids too early - not until age 4 to 6 months.
  • Introduce one new food at a time, every 4 - 5 days, and change variety, texture, and quantity as baby grows.
  • First foods need to be soft, smooth and warm - use a blender or sieve and add breast milk, infant formula or water to make the food soft enough to swallow.
  • Give infants plenty to drink - warm water, breast milk, or infant formula, although once given solids the baby will take less milk.
  • Do not add extra salt, sugar, spices, butter, or sauces to food.
  • Suggestions for meals include soft cooked ground rice or ground millet porridge, pureed cooked apple, pear, peach, banana, and pureed cooked kumara, pumpkin, carrot, marrow, or silverbeet.

Food guidelines for infants to one year

  • Fine ground oatmeal, rice, millet, or barley porridge for breakfast.
  • Soft fresh fruit e.g. segments of orange, mandarin, kiwifruit, banana, plum or peach.
  • A wider range of soft cooked vegetables twice a day - yam, taro, courgette, cauliflower, broccoli.
  • Protein foods - a small serving twice a day of soft cooked tofu or egg mashed with veg. Other suggestions include cooked, pureed lentils or chickpeas, finely minced meat, chicken, fish or liver, blended cottage cheese, plain acidophilus or homemade yoghurt sweetened with pureed fruit.

Food guidelines for one to four year olds

At this stage baby may be weaned off breast milk and infant formulas. They may be beginning to feed themselves or hold food in their hands, and they may be teething and will enjoy having something to chew on. At this stage toddlers can be given similar foods to the family and can try a lot of different foods, however, avoid small hard foods such as nuts or seeds which may cause choking.

  • For breakfast oatmeal or rolled rice, millet or barley porridges; sugar free cereals with warm cow, goat, or soy milks.
  • Up to two cups of whole (not fat reduced or calcium enriched) milk per day, which may be cow, goat, or soy.
  • For lunch - small sandwiches made from fine wholemeal bread with minimal or no butter and mashed egg, cottage cheese, salt-free peanut butter, plain hummus, plain tinned fish e.g. sardines or tuna with no oil or salt added, or plain homemade liver pate.
  • Protein sources (at least twice per day), these include cooked beans, lentils, chickpeas, soft cooked tofu, tempeh, soy sausage, soft cooked or scrambled egg, chopped lean meat, chicken, or seafood.
  • Other calcium and protein sources are blended cottage cheese, or acidophilus and homemade yoghurts (avoid sugar flavourings).
  • Cooked or raw vegetables and fruit (no sugar or salt added) at least twice per day - pureed vegetable soups.
  • Vegetable pasta, brown rice, or potato with dinner meals.
  • Soft well cooked semolina, brown rice puddings using fruit juice as sweetener, or seameal custard for desserts.
  • Homemade rusks (cut slices of fine wholemeal bread into fingers and bake in oven. Store in airtight jar); unsalted rice cakes or corn cakes with honey.
  • Warm water, or well diluted (quarter juice to 3/4 water) pure fruit juices such as apple, blackcurrant, grape, or pineapple - no sugar added.
  • Avoid all additions of salt, sugar, and fat i.e. oil, butter, margarines, fried or roasted foods where possible. Up to age 5 children should not have fat reduced diet foods.

Key Nutrients Required

Children up to the age of five require nearly as much calcium as an adult for good nerve, teeth, and bone development.

Calcium containing foods are:
  • Cow, goat, soy milks
  • Acidophilus or homemade yoghurt
  • Cottage cheese
  • Canned fish
  • Tofu, soy beans
  • Wholemeal grains and cereals
  • Green vegetables

Infants require more iron than an adult male. Iron promotes good brain development and a healthy immune system.

Iron containing foods are:
  • Red meats, liver
  • Fish, seafoods
  • Chicken, eggs
  • Beans, lentils, chickpeas, soy products
  • Wholemeal cereals and bread
  • Green leafy vegetables

See also:

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